Introducing LM Split Escapement

First released in 2011, the Legacy Machine collection offered MB&F fans something a little different – a more traditional take on keeping time. With its distinct domed crystal and suspended balance wheel, the Stephen McDonnell-designed movement celebrates the beauty of horology in an unmistakably MB&F style and with the latest Machine, MB&F once again puts the suspended balance centre stage.

Putting the balance wheel so far – 12mm – from the rest of the escapement, the anchor and escape wheel represented a challenge. You mention that the sensitivity of the balance is usually reason enough to ‘avoid straying too far from convention when it comes to escapements.’ But you did it anyway. Do you feel every one of those 12 millimeters as if it was a marathon? How challenging was it?
The story of the Legacy Split Escapement started de facto with the Legacy Perpetual. Very quickly at the beginning of that insane development, Stephen McDonnell realised that there would never be enough space on the top of the movement to place the escapement and the whole Perpetual complication – When he told us that in one of our first follow up meetings, all blood drained from our faces…  “So… this project cannot be done ?” we asked. “Maybe it can… by trying to place the escapement behind,” he answered. We were dumbfounded. Not because it had never been done before, but because one of the most important first steps of learning watchmaking is to of course never separate the balance wheel and escapement. It took months to perfect the engineering before it finally worked. When the Perpetual came out, there were so many world premieres in that movement that virtually no one picked up on the fact of this revolutionary escapement set-up. Going forward, we thought it deserved its own showcase, and that is how the LM Split Escapement came to life.

What particular thing was the hardest to achieve – was the balance staff, which I guess is longer than normal, tricky to achieve?
Imagine a 15 metre balance wheel attached to a four floors high shaft which would actually turn on pivots 8cm in diameter. That gives you an idea of how nuts that idea seemed to us initially.

How much of the design and planning of the Legacy Machine Split Escapement was done in Dubai and how much elsewhere?
Most of my ideas start in Dubai, because I work from home – and can let my mind wander much easier than in the craziness of the Geneva workshops. In the three years we have lived in Dubai, I have come out with many more new concepts than in the nine first years of MB&F.

The Legacy watches pay tribute, in their design and finishing, to traditional watchmaking – a contrast to the futuristic HM spirit. Why did you want to create the Legacy line?
Since the inception of MB&F I rely on my guts rather than my head. If I listened to my head, I would have never had the courage to create this crazy creative adventure. On paper it was simply doomed for failure.
When I launched MB&F in 2005 I vowed never to create another round watch… Yep… But a few years later, once I had worked on at least four HMs, I realised that I owed everything to traditional watchmaking; not 20th century watchmaking, which is industrial and marketing led, but 18th and 19th century watchmaking when all the complications we know today were created by the giants of our industry, the real creators, dreamers and insanely great artisans who shaped what we know and love today. So I wanted to create a tribute (hence the word Legacy) to those great men. I could not turn my back on it.

MB&F is known to connect with mechanical artists, artisans and creative individuals. Who created the rare frost technique for you?
José Labarga who had perfected that ultra-rare technique with master watchmaker Kari Voutilainen.

And why did you decide on this particular unusual finish?
Frosting is a labour of love and incredible dexterity. It epitomises for me the insane artisanal skills that were needed in the 18th and 19th century to craft beautiful pocket watches. Watchmakers would spend thousands of hours to engineer an amazing new movement and then as much time making it beautiful… Watchmaking is art and beauty is intrinsically linked to anything we do.

The piece is limited to just 18 in each of the four variations, making it extremely exclusive. Will this continue to be the segment in which you operate? Will there ever be a more accessible MB&F edition?
Any one of our movements has taken two to three years to engineer; to craft the three, four, five or 600 components takes easily eight to twelve months, and the artisanship necessary to finish them is virtually like no other today. With that in mind and the fact that the single most important reason MB&F exists is pride, there is no option to create at lesser price points unfortunately.

With this being the fifth of the Legacy watches, and with 11 horological machines, is there a plan to introduce another machine family to MB&F?
We create in four different directions: Horological Machines, Legacy Machines, Performance Art (when I invite another creator to work on one of our pieces) and Co-creations (where we design new concepts for great artisans like the recently unveiled Octopod for L’Epée clocks). That keeps me pretty busy at the moment – but am sure that at some point I will want to explore another territory.

Dubai Watch Week is just around the corner – are you excited to be participating again? What can we expect?
Dubai Watch Week has become in only two years a reference for any watchmaking lover around the world. There are many watch events around the world but all of them are focused on the commercial aspect – for the first time since Tempus (created by The Hour Glass in Singapore) ceased ten years ago, there is a new hub for watchmaking education, passion and sharing in the world. The five days of Dubai Watch Week will for sure overload all our watchmaking senses !

Find out more.